Dolly Parton stands on stage for concerts and calls to the fellows in the faraway seats, "I know why you brought those binoculars." She breathes deeply. "Don't need 'em, do ya?"
Americans want to know how high is high, how wide is wide. They see Mu Tieh-chu and want to know how high and how wide he is.
Mu Tieh-chu is a basketball player on China's national team. One estimate says he is 7 feet 9.7 inches tall. The Chinese, on their official roster, call him 7-2. An expert on elongation, Georgetown Coach John Thompson, was asked to guess Mu's height.
"I don't know." Thompson said, raising his eyes up the majestic tower of Mu. It was as if Thompson were counting the stories of a skyscraper before picking a number. And he said again, "I just don't know."
Then, from behind his hand, lest the shadow of Mao hear him, Thompson said, "But I'd like to have him playing for me."
The Chinese are in Washington on the fourth stop of a five-game tour of the United States. They play the Georgetown men tonight at 9 o'clock, following the Chinese women's game against the University of Maryland at 7 - all at D.C. Armory.
So far, the Chinese men have been beaten badly. UCLA won, 111-83, San Francisco, 103-59, and Wake Forest, 103-81. The women lost to UCLA, 100-65, but won a rematch, 67-57, and lost to North Carolina State, 83-76.
"Shen-t'i, shen-t'i," Mu said. This was during an interview and he said a lot of other words, but when an American sportswriter asked what Mu had learned in the games so far, the big guy dropped that word "shen-t'i" into the conversation every 10 seconds or so.
It means "body."
Mu Tieh-chu, who is probably 7-5 and is said to weigh 308 pounds, was impressed by the bodies of the American players.
With good reason. They call him "The Great Wall of China" because of his size; he runs and jumps little better than the wall. Mostly he stands under the basket to use his height and bulk. In the three games, he has 31 points and five rebounds. He has blocked one shot.
"He is impressed by the strength of the American bodies," said Ross Linehan, an interpreter from the University of Michigan. "That, and the agility the Americans have. He says he also is impressed by their technical skills, especially shooting and getting rebounds."
Mu is 28 years old. He is a warehouse guard in the Chinese army. He first picked up a basketball only 10 years ago, then played alone just for exercise. But even in China, the recruiters notice guys who are 7 feet 5 and dribbling a basketball. So he wound up on the national team two years ago.
And now, in the past week, he has met Wilt Chamberlain, visited Disneyland, seen the Air and Space Museum and fallen in love with Pepsi-Colas at the Taco Bell. Not bad for a country boy from Shantung province.
Shantung is in northern China. According to interpreter Linehan, that province is remarkable for its larger than normal people.
"He says he doesn't know why that is," Linehan said, "but he suspects it is the weather. The south of China is hot but the north is cooler. And in the south, they eat rice while the north eats wheat and sorghum. More meat, as well."
If wheat does it, the Driesells and Smiths will be combing the fields of Kansas for big 'ums guarding warehouses. Everyone from John Thompson on would like to have a pivot man who looks down at Wilt Chamberlain. That happened in Los Angeles last weekend.
When the Chinese were asked to name the foreign athletes most famous in their country, they listed Pele first, Muhammad Ali second and then Chamberlain. Wilt lives in L.A. and was persuaded to watch the China-UCLA game. During the warm-ups, Mu went into the stands to get Wilt's autograph.
"Mu had seen films of Chamberlain in China," the interpreter said. "And when he met him in the flesh, he was impressed not only with his size but with his body.
Chamberlain is about 7-2 and 290 pounds. If dared, Wilt could carry California to Kansas. "Mu says Chamberlain is almost as big as he is and his chest looked very strong," the interpreter said.
At Disneyland, Mu was too large to sit in the roller-coaster seats of Space Mountain but he made the trip up the Matterhorn. At Taco Bell, he ate his share of burritos, drowning them in Pepsi-Cola. (At a luncheon yesterday, Mu and his teammates showed a fondness for beer and sherry; they needed no help with the twist-off bottle caps.)
"Mu says he is having a great time," the interpreter said. "The American people are being very friendly to him."
John Thompson is 6 feet 10. "Tell Mu," the coach said on meeting the big guy, "that he is one of the few men I have to look up to. And tell him if it wasn't so stupid, I'd ask him how the weather is up there."
That "how's the weather up there?" line must be new in China because, hearing the translation, Mu laughed and patted the coach on the arm.